For the past 15 years, I have not celebrated my birthday on my actual birth day—September 11. And it’s been okay. For many people, the sting of that day fades as the years go by, and ideally, that’s how it should be. I am convinced the dead do not want us to mourn forever. They want us to move on. To smile and eventually be able to celebrate life on a day that will often be known as one full of death.
But for me, it seems like time only brings more somberness to the day, what has become the legacy of 9/11. At first I refrained from throwing parties on this day because people found it too hard to be festive, despite their feelings for me as friends. Then it became more out of a habit of respect and before I knew it, Fate brought into my life someone who actually lost her mother in one of the planes that crashed into the Twin Towers. It’s like Life has continued to remind me again and again that my birth date is a difficult anniversary for many of us in this world. And that I should never forget that fact.
Someday I will share on this blog my 9/11 experience, which took place less than 100 miles north of Afghanistan where I was doing my Peace Corps service. I will one day tell the story of I how I spent an entire day traveling across the region, sharing the US Embassy’s safety message to volunteers without telephones, televisions or any other means of communications. Of how unprepared I was for the wide range of reactions I witnessed as I shared the news: how one volunteer went into a frightening rage against President Bush, temporarily unable to separate me from the person he blamed most for these attacks; how another had a full-blown panic attack when I told her the news, her voice rising into a shrill shriek of fear as I explained to her the situation as I heard it from the embassy and how another volunteer, before I even had a chance to share the news with her, melted to her knees in tears at the sight of me suddenly in her village, knowing that my presence at her site was only the sign of bad news (as my role as the Peace Corps safety warden for the North of the country). Someday, dear readers, I will share the story of the Peace Corps’ overnight evacuation from our country of service, which included a police escort to the Kyrgyzstan-Kazakstan border and the helpless feeling of not completely understanding what the hell just happened in our home country so many miles and continents away. Eventually I will be able to explain how it was one year later at a music store in South Korea that I finally got the full account of what happened on 9/11 in New York, DC and Pennsylvania and how I then experienced a delayed sense of shock, horror and sorrow that I did not fully feel before due to the isolation of where I was living in Central Asia at the time of the attacks. Yes, someday, dear readers, I will be able to share all that with you.
But for now, I will say that September 11 simply marks for me just another year of life. And I’m truly okay with that. In fact, this past weekend at the 25th anniversary celebration between Kyrgyzstan and the United States here in DC, I was reunited with a few Peace Corps volunteers I served with in Kyrgyzstan back in the day. And I found myself saying to them that how as the years go by, I have less of a desire to celebrate my birthday in any big way. To my surprise, some agreed with my sentiment. I don’t know if it was because we have similar personalities or if we’re truly getting old, but all of us no longer felt the desire to make a big deal out of a day where we would truly be justified in making a “big deal.” So while I truly do appreciate the cards and gifts, the calls and birthday wishes (for they really are what make the day special), I have also learned to see my birthday as being less about me and more about the world and how it has changed since that fateful day in 2001. Strangely, it doesn’t bother me at all that my perspective has altered on this. I have, after all, had 15 years to think about it.
So while all of this may not make much sense to anyone reading, don’t worry—I get it. It’s kind of an abstract concept—not caring if the one day of the year truly dedicated to you is really spent celebrating your existence or not. And maybe it is a sign of aging, of growing dull and fading into the woodwork, but I honestly do think it is a collective effect of experiences I have had since September 11, 2001. The world has changed since that day, and it will never be the same for many of us, ever again. In that sense, it really is only un año más. Just another year. And again, I’m really okay with that.